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The Art of Glass – designing textured glass

20 Oct 2011

I’ve always been passionate about using natural light in architecture, how we capture, borrow and filter it. It is an essential ingredient in creating psychologically better and environmentally more efficient spaces, and glass is the obvious material for carrying it.

Back in 1998, after winning the BBC Young Designer of the Year competition I was excited to be asked to work with Pilkington Building Products UK to design a new range of textured glass patterns, to be created at the St Helens float line.

The site visit was incredible; vast hoppers of silicates flowing into the white hot furnaces to create a red hot molten river of liquid glass which fed through the patterned rollers to continue down the cooling conveyer belt. Mechanised cutters and cranes lifted a seemingly never ending stream of glass into neat piles before it was shipped out around the country. An awe inspiring process if ever I’d seen one.

Over the next few months we created 10 new patterns, taking inspiration from nature, geometrics and even a Braille design, that contained a message only the blind would see. But creating interlocking repeat patterns wasn't easy, even more so as our early computers had a frustrating habit of crashing frequently, loosing hours of our work. However, amazingly we eventually used this to our advantage.

But the more we created the patterns the more I became fascinated by the way the glass relief held light, similar to light refracting from an icicle. Enhancing the light holding capacity of the textured glass is created by working with the depth of relief and also the texture of the pattern.

Our ten patterns were put through a series of market research sessions and the selection was reduced to five; the patterns now known as Digital, Ripple, Charcoal Sticks, Contora and Oak.

Oak and Charcoal Sticks took their inspiration from nature, the former from leaves I collected on a blustery autumn day in Kew Gardens. Ripple was inspired by winter showers on our windows whilst Digital was developed from a computer crash; what we thought was hours of lost work, turned out to be the basis of a complex series of interlocking Tetris like rectangles and textures.

The patterns went into production in 1999 and are still being rolled out today. If you look out for them you’ll see them on glass partition doors, windows, and bathrooms around the country, and of course I still get a real thrill when I spot them much to the bemusement of those standing near me at the time, especially if I’m feeling vocal!

To view the full range of Pilkington Texture Glass, including the designs Oliver helped to create head over to the Pilkington website by following this link.